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Sundance Review Roundup: 'Upstream Color' Is a Gorgeous Head-Scratcher

by Beth Hanna
January 22, 2013 11:58 AM
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Amy Seimetz in 'Upstream Color'
Amy Seimetz in 'Upstream Color'

Critics don't mind feeling stumped when it comes to Shane Carruth's gorgeous, enigmatic Sundance entry "Upstream Color." While the film is largely receiving praise, reviews are quick to point out that the narrative, nominally about a young man and woman "consumed by a higher force," will raise plenty of questions "about what the hell is going on." Review highlights below.

The Hollywood Reporter:

The long-awaited second film from Shane Carruth, whose microbudgeted time-travel sci-fier Primer won the 2004 Sundance Grand Jury Prize and a subsequent cult following, pursues a similar but cinematically more complex line of combining exceptional technique with a deliberately obscure narrative and meaning. With much information purposely withheld and no dialogue during the film’s final third, this densely exploratory work will cue both elation for its many beauties and deep-furrowed brows about what the hell is going on. In other words, this is a highbrow cult item par excellence.


An advanced cinematic collage of ideas involving the slipperiness of human experience, Carruth's polished, highly expressionistic work bears little comparison to his previous feature aside from the constant mental stimulation it provides for its audience. This stunningly labyrinthine assortment of murky events amount to a riddle with no firm solution.


As mystifying as his 2004 sci-fier, "Primer," albeit for entirely different reasons, Shane Carruth's "Upstream Color" is a stimulating and hypnotic piece of experimental filmmaking. It's also a poem about pigs, a meditation on orchids, a cerebral-spiritual love story, an intensely elliptical sight-and-sound collage, and perhaps a free-form re-interpretation of Thoreau's "Walden." Surely the most challenging dramatic entry at Sundance this year, this unapologetically avant-garde work regards conventional narrative as if it were a not-especially-interesting alien species

The Playlist:

It's a picture that's not easy to process, and that's part of what makes it so breathtaking and brilliant. You're baffled by what you've seen and in awe of how it's illuminated your mind. Thematically rich, layered and hypnotic, "Upstream Color" is a maddeningly abstract and romantic examination of love, who we are as lovers and what our love does to one another. It's fleeting, transcendental. Don't ask me what it all means.


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